Container Volumes and Transshipments Drive Rebound at Antwerp

Antwerp reports rebound in container volumes and transshipments
Container volume is leading the recovery in Antwerp - courtesy Port of Antwerp

Published Oct 15, 2020 9:15 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Port of Antwerp, Belgium, like many of the world’s ports, is beginning to see a rebound in traffic helping to offset the impact of the coronavirus that reduced volumes earlier in the year. In addition, the port also reports a steady flow in transshipments, demonstrating another important trend that has contributed to recovery at some of the world’s leading ports.

At the end of the first nine months of 2020, the Port of Antwerp reported that total throughput is down more than four percent year-over-year. Yet, while the port continues to see weaknesses in many sectors, it is also reporting a strong rebound in container volumes with a steady volume in transshipments. Port officials cite these factors as helping the port to maintain its performance, especially when compared to other neighboring European ports ranging from Hamburg to Le Harve.

Start in July and continuing in the following two months, Antwerp experienced increased container volumes. The volume surpassed one million TEUs in September for the first time since April 2020. The months of May and June marked the low point of container volumes. Due to this recovery, the port reached 8.85 million TEUs at the end of the third quarter, which is flat year-over-year.  

Figured in tonnage, the port is reporting just a one percent decline in the container business for the nine months. The growth they experienced in the third quarter occurred mainly in container traffic to the Far East and within Europe.

The rebound in volume is also reflected in improvements in the vessel calls at the port. While calls declined by more than five percent for the first nine months of 2020 to 10,241 seagoing vessels, Antwerp is now seeing a decline in the number of blank sailings. Shipping companies are also organizing extra runs outside the regular sailing schedules, which is largely compensating for the effect of the blank sailings. The total gross tonnage of the vessels calling in Antwerp however remains down more than six percent for the year.

The port reports that while it has seen a rebound in container volumes, many other segments continue to be impacted by the repercussions of the coronavirus on the global economy combined with uncertainties in global trade. The conventional break bulk segment is one area that has been particularly hard hit, especially in steel volumes. Antwerp reported improvements in volumes in June and July but has seen further declines starting in August. Growth in the fruit trade failed to offset the other declines resulting in a 20 percent decline in total break bulk throughput at the end of the third quarter.

Similarly, in the ro/ro segment, the port saw a traditional seasonal rise in automobile volumes in June and July, but a decline in August without a recovery in September. As a result, the total throughput of new vehicles decreased by 30 percent, while second-hand vehicles were down by more than 20 percent in 2020 compared to the last year.

The throughput of dry bulk is also fluctuating with some cargos, including kaolin and scrap remaining stable, while other products, such as fertilizers, which are the largest share of Antwerp’s dry bulk cargos, have decreased. The throughput of coal is also down by more than half contributing to a 15.5 percent drop in dry bulk throughput in 2020.

Liquid bulk has also been mixed with a pickup in volumes of oil derivatives, especially on the export side and steady import volumes. However, while chemical exports have grown, imports have been sharply lower contributed to a nearly six percent decline in total liquid bulk volumes.

Antwerp officials believe the combination of their geographic location and surrounding businesses such as the chemical sector, along with the diversity of their businesses has helped the port to outperform other regional ports. The port has decided to grant a further postponement of payments for domain concessions and for shipping and inland navigation dues to support the shipping companies and other businesses active in the Port of Antwerp.